Sweden has a growing unemployment problem

Today is one for some humility and no I am not referring to the UK election. It relates to Sweden and developments there in economic policy and its measurement which have turned out to be extraordinary even for these times. Let me start by taking you back to the 22nd of August when I noted this.

I am less concerned by the contraction than the annual rate. There had been a good first quarter so the best perspective was shown by an annual rate of 1.4%. You see in recent years Sweden has seen annual economic growth peak at 4.5% and at the opening of 2018 it was 3.6%.

We now know that this broad trend continued into the third quarter.

Calendar adjusted and compared with the third quarter of 2018, GDP grew by 1.6 percent.

What was really odd about the situation is that after years of negative interest-rates the Riksbank raised interest-rates at the end of last year to -0.25% and plans this month to get back to 0%. So it has kept interest-rates negative in a boom and waited for a slow down to raise them. But there is more.

The Unemployment Debacle

If we step forwards to October 24th there was another development.

As economic activity has entered a phase of lower growth in
2019, the labour market has also cooled down. Unemployment is deemed to have increased slightly during the year. ( Riksbank)

Actually it looked a bit more than slightly if we switch to Sweden Statistics.

In September 2019, there were 391 000 unemployed persons aged 15─74, not seasonally adjusted, an increase of 62 000 compared with September 2018.

The Riksbank at this point was suggesting it would raise to 0% but gave Forward Guidance which was lower! Make of that what you will.

But in late October Sweden Statistics dropped something of a bombshell.

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Recent Swedish jobless figures – which that have shown a sharp rise in unemployment and led to calls for the central bank to postpone planned interest rate hikes – are suspect, the country’s Statistics Office said on Thursday………….The problems also led to the unemployment rate being underestimated at the start of the year and then overestimated in more recent months.

The smoothed unemployment rate was lowered from 7.3% to 6.8% in response to this and changed the narrative, assuming of course that they had got it right this time. The headline rate went from 7.1% to 6%.

This morning we got the latest update and here it is.

In November 2019, there were 378 000 unemployed persons aged 15─74, not seasonally adjusted, which is an increase of 63 000 persons compared with the same period a year ago. The unemployment rate increased by 1.0 percentage points and amounted to 6.8 percent.

As you can see eyes will have turned to the headline rate having gone from 6% to 6.8% making us wonder if the new methodology has now started to give similar results to the old one. It had been expected to rise but to say 6.3% not 6.8%. We get some more insight from this.

Among persons aged 15–74, smoothed and seasonally adjusted data shows an increase in both the number of unemployed persons and the unemployment rate, compared with nearby months. There were 384 000 unemployed persons in November 2019, which corresponds to an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.

A much smaller move but again higher and because it is smoothed we also start to think we are back to where we were as this from Danske Bank makes clear.

Ooops! The very unreliable revised new #LFS data showed a significant bounce back up to 7.3 % seasonally adjusted! This is very close to what our model suggested. Ironically, this is just as bad as the old figures suggested. But perhaps these are wrong too? ( Michael Grahn )

So the new supposedly better data is now giving a similar answer to the old. Just for clarity they are taking out the smoothing or averaging effect and looking to give us a spot answer for November unemployment.

The Wider Economy

One way of looking at the work situation is to look at hours worked.

On average, the number of hours worked amounted to 154.3 million per week in November 2019.

But that is lower than under the old system.

On average, the number of hours worked amounted to 156.5 million per week in September 2019…..On average, the number of hours worked amounted to 156.2 million per week in August 2019.

This is really awkward as under the new system Sweden has just under an extra half a million employees but the total number of house worked has fallen. Make of that what you will.

If switch to production we saw a by now familiar beat hammered out earlier this month.

Production in the industry sector decreased by 3.0 percent in October in calendar adjusted figures compared with the same period of the previous year. The industry for machinery and equipment n.e.c. decreased by 6.8 percent in fixed prices and accounted for the largest contribution, -0.2* percentage points, to the development in total private sector production.

Monthly output was up by 0.2% seasonally adjusted but as you can see was well below last year’s. This means Sweden is relying on services for any growth.

Production in the service sector increased by 1.1 percent in October in calendar adjusted figures compared with the same period of the previous year. Trade activities increased by 3.6 percent in fixed prices and contributed the most, 0.5 percentage points, to the development in total private sector production.

So Sweden has maybe some growth which will get a boost from construction.

Production in the construction sector increased by 2.1 percent in October in calendar adjusted figures compared with the same period of the previous year. This sector increased by 2.1 percent in fixed prices, not calendar-adjusted.

If we switch to private-sector surveys then Swedbank tells us this.

The purchasing managers’ index for the private service sector (Services PMI) dropped in November for the third month in a row to 47.9 from 49.4 in October. The
decrease in the index means that service sector activity is continuing to decline in the fourth quarter to levels that have not been seen in six years and that are
contributing to lower hiring needs in service companies,

So maybe the service sector growth has gone as well. The overall measure speaks for itself.

Silf/Swedbank’s PMI Composite index dropped for the third straight month to 47.2 in November from 48.5 in October, reinforcing the view that private sector activity is
slowing in the fourth quarter. Since November of last year the composite index has fallen 7.6 points


There are two clear issues in this. Of which the first is the insane way in which the Riksbank kept interest-rates negative in a boom and now is raising them in a slowing.

Updated GDP tracker after Nov LFS dropped to a new low since 2012, just 0.26% yoy. ( Michael Grahn of Danske )

Some signals suggest that this may now be a decline or contraction. But whatever the detail the Swedish economy has slowed and will not be helped much by the slower Euro area and UK economies. An interest-rate rise could be at the worst moment and fail the Bananarama critique.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
And that’s what gets results

Next is the issue of lies, damned lies and statistics. I am sure Sweden’s statisticians are doing their best but making mistakes like they have about unemployment is a pretty basic fail. It reminds us that these are surveys and not actual counts and adds to the mess Japan made of wages growth. So we know a lot less than we think we do and this poses yet another problem for the central bankers who seem to want to control everything these days.

Let me end with the thought that UK readers should vote and Rest In Peace to Marie Fredriksson of Roxette.

She’s got the look (She’s got the look) She’s got the look (She’s got the look)
What in the world can make a brown-eyed girl turn blue
When everything I’ll ever do I’ll do for you
And I go la la la la la she’s got the look





7 thoughts on “Sweden has a growing unemployment problem

  1. Hello Shaun,

    All the major economies are slowing – I guess they’re putting rates up so they can drop them later during the year to show they are doing something ……….

    Events will be out of their hands


    • Hi Forbin

      It is quite a perversion of what was considered to be considered monetary policy or if you prefer they did not take away the punch bowl as the economic party for started. In fact they added some more alcohol.

      Because of the problem with the labour market data we do not know how bad things are but we do know that things have deteriorated. It would have been far better to get back to 0% ( and above) when prospects were good.

  2. forbin

    We sing from the same hymn sheet!

    You are correct all the major economies are slowing down and as I have said before its like a small snowball rolling down the hill it gets bigger and bigger until it hits something and bursts.

    Maybe that is a strange analogy but it is Christmas!

    Furthermore no one seems to have a proper handle on what to do with the situation other than negative interest rates, QE including more and more debt or in the case of Japan buying up stocks and as Shaun has said previously what does Japan do when its bough up all its stocks?

    But dare I say it there may be worse to come! We are at the forefront of an new are of intelligent thinking devices talking together and robots doing away with workers and its cannot be stopped if any county want to produce more at cheaper costs its got to jump on board.

    So things will get worse and I don’t know how long for and the present generation having to will have to pay more for an ageing population but will have less for their own old age.

    There are simply too many people on the planet all thinking of ways to protect their own economies and the capitalist system simply gone wrong. The more we produce the more and more damage to the environment, the less we product the more damage we cause ourselves by unemployment..

    So what do we do stop propagating in the short term, but that was tried in China and now there aren’t enough people to look after the aged. That would also cause the same problems to any other county as well.

    A world war to decimate the planet and then start all over again could be the answer! Shock horror what am In thinking of? But has anyone else got the answer?

    I see Greta Thunberg is named Times of The Year, she realises the problem but really hasn’t got the answer! As I have said before we all stop consuming to save the planet and world growth will slow down even faster and cause more hurt than she seems to understand.

    Trillions of people around the world are producing more for out appetite to want more, the moment that reverses the economies will suffer!

    All the old economic theories seem to have failed imo and it looks to me like the debt balloon will have explode and the world economies implode!

    One last comment to Shaun

    Noticed the tweet between yourself and Danny. Take your point a strong £ good for real wages but hasn’t DB not got a point a strong £ bad for exporters and worse still for workers in those industries? Worse still if they lose their jobs because they become uncompetitive.

    • Peter,
      The old “weak pound is good for exporters” argument is wearing a bit thin now as an excuse to reflate the dying UK economy and housing market, since exporters make up such as small part of our overall economy, a boost to them makes little difference, add in the increased cost of the raw materials for those exporters buying their stuff with devalued £’s and the benefit to them is minimal so let’s put that one to bed for good eh?

      • All I was doing was making a point following a tweet between Shaun and Danny Blanchflower.

        You are correct about manufacturing just a small part of our economy, but doesn’t a strong pound also provide less money for our tourism as well? Less money for tourism the retail, hotel and leisure sector will be hot as well. More job losses there.

        Not certain how the strong pound will affect other industries I haven’t given it a lot of thought.

        • Hi Peter

          To answer your question I do not think that it is as simple as Danny was making out. Many investment and hence export decisions are made on views set over a period and looking ahead for years. So yes they want a lower currency but they do not want inflation. That’s why things worked for Germany as it devalued into the Euro but people were confident that inflation would be kept low.

          So yes whilst a lower £ can help if it was a pancea we would not have a trade deficit.

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